Al Gore recently taught thousands of people the moral obligation of preserving the environment using his film “An Inconvenient Truth,” but what he didn’t mention is that being eco-conscious can be a lot more fun and rewarding than viewing a bunch of PowerPoint slides. A growth in environmental awareness has fostered a recent surge of eco-friendly tourism options, including hotels, activities and tours. If you’re looking to go green for your next vacation, there are thousands of eco-friendly destinations across the world, and at least one will undoubtedly meet your needs.
The International Society of Ecotourism defines ecotourism as “responsible travel to natural areas that conserves the environment and improves the well-being of local people,” and this credo can be fulfilled in several ways. Some families may opt to volunteer to help preserve and restore the local environment, whereas others may simply want to enjoy a vacation of outdoor activities. To get started, select a location, do research in guidebooks and online, investigate environmentally sound activities or tour companies in the local area and find ecologically sound lodging. (But beware of tour companies or hotels that superficially or falsely label themselves as environmentally friendly). Not sure where to go? Below are six popular ecotourism spots in the Americas—and one just a bit off the beaten path in New Zealand—all of which are excellent vacation ideas for families looking for a natural getaway.
One of the most popular ecotourism spots for Americans is Costa Rica, the small Central American nation with an awe-inspiring tropical landscape. Given the country’s close proximity and relative peace and safety, Costa Rica is excellent for family vacations. During your stay, choose from hiking, rafting and zip lining (riding on a suspended wire), or take an ecotour to learn about the rainforest and the native community. To get your vacation going, check out horizontes.com, a Costa Rican nature touring company with eco-friendly family vacation programs. Horizontes, which has signed an agreement with the Rainforest Alliance to attempt to conserve biodiversity, offers a 10-day family education and fun tour, on which your family can explore the rainforest, learn how to surf, take a wildlife river float and much more. You’ll visit some of Costa Rica’s natural beaches and volcanoes while interacting with fascinating local wildlife and communities.
Hawaii may be known for its tourist-filled beaches, but it’s also a prime spot for visitors looking to do more than just sizzle in the sun. With volcanoes, rainforests and local communities in need of preservation, there are plenty of family-friendly tourism trips to take within this island state. Consider traveling with Hawaii Forest and Trail, a touring company that offers affordable family adventures to waterfalls, bird sanctuaries, volcanoes and farms that allow you to glimpse the natural Hawaiian environment and wildlife. Winner of the 2006 Hawaii Ecotourism Association’s Ecotour Operator of the Year award, Hawaii Forest and Trails offers highly skilled local guides who will lead your family on an adventure through the Hawaiian landscape while uncovering Hawaii’s rich natural history. Go to hawaii-forest.com to start planning your adventure into the tropical green.
Southern Florida is another hot destination, with the Florida Keys attracting a year-round stream of sea-loving travelers. Near the Keys and the southern Atlantic coast of Florida lies the only shallow coral reef formation in the continental United States. For a rare opportunity to snorkel in the reef while learning about the ecosystem and how to preserve it, families should consider looking into one of the Sierra Club’s trips (sierraclub.org) to the reef. For less than $1000, the entire family can spend a week in Key Largo on this exciting boating and snorkeling adventure, which also includes ecological discussions and the opportunity to practice reef fish identification. Sign up quickly, as spaces are limited!
Looking to travel closer to home? No need to fly, because right here in New York State is another glorious ecotourism destination, Adirondack State Park. The Adirondack region abounds with snowy mountains, northeast woodlands, ponds, rivers and hiking trails (more than 2,000 miles’ worth), making an eco-friendly vacation easy and affordable for the whole family. For an environmentally friendly place to stay, try The Stoney Lonesome Bed and Breakfast, a Civil War era farmhouse converted into a bed and breakfast. The owners of the inn run it completely independently of the power grid and rely on organic materials whenever possible, and the home-cooked breakfasts are always delicious and healthy. Located just minutes from Lake George, Lake Champlain and Adirondack State Park, the Stoney Lonesome is an ideal scenic location for the whole family (stoneylonesomebb.com).
And then there’s New Zealand, with its storied beauty and family-friendly charms. Intrepid Travel, which is known for its responsible adventure travel programs, has put together a 12-day family-minded excursion that will take you from picturesque Queenstown to the rugged mountains of the Southern Alps and the inspiring Franz Josef glacier. Along the way, you’ll also get a taste for farm life, walk on a glacier, do some horseback riding and soak up the spectacular scenery at Lake Wanaka. For more info intrepidtravel.com